CAG Devon groups’ remarkable impact during COVID.

31 August 2021
By Helen Vines

During the most challenging year, in the grip of the global pandemic, CAG Devon groups have risen to the challenge and blown previous yearly achievements out of the water.  They have quadrupled the amount of waste prevented, saving over 16.62 tonnes from landfill/incineration. And there’s more.

Many of CAG Devon groups’ regular face-to-face activities, including repair cafes, community fridges, food surplus cafes, tree planting initiatives, composting, refill campaigns and clothes swishes had to be put on hold during three lockdowns.

Several groups took a break from their usual activities, with many of their volunteers getting involved in mutual-aid groups locally.  Others redirected their energies to carrying out their usual activities but in a different way.  For example Ashburton,  Blackdown Hills and Abbotskerswell Repair Cafes all adapted to a “click and collect” model of repair, with social distancing and quarantining measures built into their processes.

The Year of Covid also saw the setup of new CAG Devon groups, who saw a need in their community to access food coupled with an opportunity to reduce food waste.  Teign Valley Larder, for example, set up five community larder points in the valley in the midst of the pandemic, preventing 1.4 tonnes of food waste.  They also ran a children’s clothes swap shop.

Through 2020/21 CAG Devon groups got inventive about minimising waste, tackling carbon emissions and building more sustainable and resilient communities.  Their volunteers gave 5,746 hours of their time, and their activities resulted in an almost four-fold increase in ‘avoided’ carbon emissions from 18.54 to an astonishing 60.2 tonnes.  Much of this was due to activities relating to surplus food redistribution.

Additionally, they prevented 16.62 tonnes of waste being produced, up from 4.86 tonnes the previous year, and diverted ten tonnes of waste from being sent for disposal, up from 2.72 tonnes.

Some highlights from the year included:

  • Sustainable BradninchTeign Valley Larder and Uffculme Green Team launching new community fridges / larders.
  • Tiverton Tree Team developing a seed nursery scheme, providing advice online encouraging families to grow their own trees from acorns and hazel nuts, ready to plant out next Autumn.
  • Blackdown Hills Repair Café launched a Click and Collect repair service, repairing 428 items weighing approximately 1000Kgs and achieved a repair rate of 92%.
  • ReRooted launched a surplus food takeaway service whilst unable to offer its usual monthly surplus café and prevented 4.3 tonnes of food going to waste.
  • Dawlish Against Plastic set up a Beach Clean Club, long-loaning litter picking equipment for solo/socially distanced litter picks.

CAG Devon worked with these groups, navigating their way through frequently changing Government guidance, helping groups pull together risk assessments to make sure their volunteers and customers were safe.

Kate Yeo from Sustainable Bishop said: “Being part of the CAG Devon network has helped our community organisation to grow and develop, sharing and learning new skills with other similarly minded groups. But we also have the peace of mind of knowing the CAG Devon team are there if we need help or advice, which has been invaluable especially through such challenging times”.

Having piloted our first CAG project more than 20 years ago in Oxford, we know that supporting communities is vital

“This is a fantastic achievement from our network and it’s thanks to the hard work of all the volunteers giving their time and enthusiasm freely,” said Helen Vines, CAG Devon Project Manager. “Having piloted our first CAG project more than 20 years ago in Oxford, we know that supporting communities is vital if we are to tackle the scourge of waste and respond to the climate emergency that we are faced with.”

Councillor Roger Croad, Cabinet Member for Public Health, Communities and Equality at Devon County Council, said: “I want to congratulate the volunteers for their hard work, they have made such a difference.

The day-to-day collection and management of household waste and recycling is a vital service delivered by councils across Devon and the work voluntary groups do help communities to reduce waste and carbon emissions, and to become better connected and more resilient.  Devon County Council supports community groups to take action in their own communities and I’m pleased to see the continued positive impact the CAG Devon project is having, even during a global pandemic.”

This has been a great success, and feedback has been positive from parents who value the information available via a now sizeable bank of video content, on a large range of topics.

Since video calls have become the norm in all areas and people in general are feeling more confident with the concept, the team have been able to offer 1:1 consultations with parents, in place of meeting them at groups. This has the benefit of saving travel time for all parties, and allows meetings to take place at the convenience of everyone involved. Again, feedback has been positive, and it’s likely that these will continue as an option even as the world begins to reopen.

There remains a sense of hesitation and a level of nervousness particularly among new parents, about going ‘back to normal’. For many of them, their child was not even conceived at the start of the pandemic, and the idea of ‘normal’ is completely different to that which might have existed at the beginning of 2020.

The ability to deliver the Gloucestershire Real Nappy Project online, has been invaluable in retaining engagement with parents. Links with other professionals, such as Midwives, Health Visitors and antenatal teachers, have been maintained and strengthened by providing a library of resources in the way of videos and infographics that they can use and refer to. In addition, virtual events such as a showcase of local services for parents of young children, and a “Mini Real Nappy Week” which was both entertaining and informative, have helped to keep the project in the mind of local parents and families.

Word of mouth is hugely valuable to the project, and feedback consistently tells us that hearing from others who have used washable nappies and are aware of the Council’s scheme plays a big part in spreading a positive message to other parents. Through the extended use of social media, we are able to reach many more individuals through the ‘like and share’ culture, including those who may not have considered seeking us out in person.

All this having been said, the Real Nappy Advisors are keen to resume their visits to in-person groups across the county as and when it becomes possible. Their online presence will remain a valuable second string to our bow, and will certainly continue with this way of working, long after the grip of the pandemic releases.

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